14 Items You Should Never Put Down the Drain

No one wants to worry about their toilet overflowing or their sink refusing to drain. Luckily there are ways to avoid the build-up that leads to these unfortunate scenarios. We have 14 items you should never put down the drain. These things will either clog up the pipes in your home or leak chemicals into our marine environment. Regardless, they should be avoided whenever possible.

graphic of a household cleaning product

1. Household cleaners

Many household cleaners contain chemicals like bleach that mix with the water and leak into the waterways. These chemicals can be deadly for marine life and cause erosion in your pipes.

How to dispose of household cleaners

Read the label on the cleaner to find the correct way to dispose of the product. Be sure to recycle the container if its recyclable.

Eco tip

Purchase all-natural cleaning products that are water-soluble and designed to safely go down the drain.

graphic of medication

2. Medication

If you are getting rid of unused, unwanted or expired pills, its important that you dont flush them. The city waste treatment isnt able to filter these medications, so they end up in the ocean. These pills leak chemicals that can impact aquatic animals by interfering with growth and reproduction.

How to dispose of medication

The FDA suggests discarding your unwanted medicines by mixing them with an unappealing substance like dirt, cat litter or coffee grounds in a sealed plastic bag. Then dispose of this in the garbage can. Be sure to remove your name and information from any prescription bottles before tossing them.

Eco tip

Rather than tossing these medications, bring them to a National Prescription Drug Take Back Day or controlled substance public disposal location. These programs have a secure process that disposes of them in a way that protects the environment.

graphic that shows paint

3. Paint

Whether youve just repainted your home or are working on an art project, dont pour your leftover paint down the drain. Paint is flammable, releases dangerous fumes and will stick to your pipes. The chemicals in the paint also can get into the waterways and be deadly to marine life.

How to dispose of paint

When done painting, be sure any excess paint is off the brush by scraping it against the edge of the can. If you have a large amount of paint you need to dispose of, find a household hazardous waste facility in your area that will take care of it.

Eco tip

Plan for your project. Use a decorating app to envision the color on the wall to make sure its the right one and then calculate the exact amount youll need. If you have too much paint and dont want to take it to a disposal facility, try listing it for free on a selling app.

graphic that shows microplastics in a facial cleanser

4. Microplastics

Microplastics or microbeads are little bits of plastic that are used as filler in many health and beauty products. These plastics get into the oceans and are harmful to marine life. Not only is it bad for fish to consume these plastics, but humans can end up eating the fish that have this dangerous plastic in them.

How to dispose of microplastics

Its impossible to catch these microplastics from going down the drain. Instead, you have to actively avoid products that have these plastics.

Eco tip

Avoid products that have colorful beads or list polyethylene (PE) or polypropylene (PP) as an ingredient.

graphic that shows coffee grounds

5. Coffee grounds

A highly debated topic is if its okay to dispose of coffee grounds in the sink. While many foods can be put down the garbage disposal, coffee grounds pose a problem. They tend to clump up in water and create a build-up in your pipes.

How to dispose of coffee grounds

These coffee grounds should be disposed of in a trash can, added to your compost pile or repurposed into a coffee ground DIY project.

Eco tip

Use the coffee grounds as fertilizer in your garden. If you dont have a yard, add them to the plants on your balcony or windowsill.

graphic that shows plant growing in an egg shell

6. Eggshells

While some garbage disposals can handle eggshells, most sinks can not. To err on the side of caution, resist putting the remnants of your breakfast down the drain. The shells break up into small, sticky pieces that attach to the inside of your pipes, causing a clog.

How to dispose of eggshells

You can throw these shells in the garbage or add them to your compost pile.

Eco tip

Try repurposing the shells by using them as containers to grow an herb garden in. You can even keep the herb plants in the original egg carton.

graphic that shows pasta

7. Pasta

Another food that can cause a sticky situation is pasta. The noodles grow in size when they absorb water so if you put them in a wet drain, they will become enlarged and block the passageway.

How to dispose of pasta

Be sure to scrape any leftovers into a garbage bin.

Eco tip

Its easy to cook too much pasta and be left with a feast. Instead, read the packaging to see how many servings of pasta it makes. This way you wont have too much left over.

graphic that shows a flour bag

8. Flour

Youve probably experienced the thick paste that combining flour and water creates. Avoid producing this paste in your pipes whenever possible.

How to dispose of flour

If youve spilled a large amount when baking, use a vacuum to clean up the mess. For smaller counter spills, wipe the extra flour into a garbage can.

Eco tip

Transfer your flour to a reusable container thats easy to use. This will keep the flour fresh for a long period of time and prevent spills.

graphic that shows oil in a mason jar

9. Grease, fat and oils

Grease, fat and oil should never be disposed of down the drain. These liquids, hot or cold, will dry and easily cling to the sides of the pipes. This plumbing backup will prevent water from coming through and can cause issues for your whole apartment complex or even neighborhood.

How to dispose of grease, fat and oils

Grease, fat and oils should be disposed of in a trash can. Let them cool and then spoon the solid leftovers into a container that can be thrown away. We suggest putting this container in a plastic bag that can be zipped or tied closed so animals wont get into your trash.

Eco tip

Its not advised to compost this leftover grease. The smell will attract all kinds of unwanted animals. However, you can reuse the grease and fat. After cooking, let it cool and strain the room temperature liquid into a mason jar to use for another recipe. You can store the mason jar in the fridge until you need it.

graphic that shows cotton balls

10. Cotton balls

Cotton balls and Q-tips are commonly used in the bathroom, so it can be tempting to dispose of them in the toilet. This is a sure way to cause a clog. Cotton absorbs water and gets caught in pipe corners.

How to dispose of cotton balls

These should be disposed of in the trash can.

Eco tip

Try using reusable materials like a washcloth whenever possible. If you do use cotton balls or cotton swabs, be sure they are made of cotton rather than synthetic materials. Cotton can be composted.

graphic that shows collecting produce stickers

11. Produce stickers

When you wash your produce in the kitchen sink, its likely that a produce sticker comes off. While this little paper might seem harmless, it doesnt dissolve in water and can block screens, filters or pumps at the water treatment plant.

This has also become an issue for those who compost. They peel the fruit with the sticker and all the waste goes into their compost bin. Unfortunately, these stickers won't decompose because they are made from vinyl or plastic.

How to dispose of produce stickers

Remove any stickers you find on produce and throw them in the garbage. Most produce stickers are not recyclable.

Eco tip

While there is a push for creating more sustainable PLU sticker alternatives, nothing has stuck. Rather than throwing them in the garbage, you can try collecting the stickers and have your kids create sticker art. Check out Stickerman Produce Art for some inspiration.

graphic that shows hair in a hair brush

12. Hair

Have you ever had to deal with a clogged shower drain full of hair? It's not a pretty sight. The same clog can happen if you flush hair down the toilet or bathroom sink. Whenever possible, try to prevent hair from going down the drain.

How to dispose of hair

Get a sink hair catcher and dispose of it in the trash.

Eco tip

Brush your hair (with an eco-friendly bamboo hairbrush) before you shower to prevent any loose hairs from going down the drain.

graphic that shows paper towels

13. Paper towels

While paper towels might seem interchangeable with toilet paper, the material is very different. They are thicker and not able to dissolve in water. This means paper towels should not be flushed because they will get stuck in the pipes and create a clog.

How to dispose of paper towels

Paper towels are usually made from recycled paper, so the fibers are too short to be recycled again. They also cant usually be recycled because they contain dirt, food and chemicals that arent able to break down. This means to dispose of paper towels, youll have to throw them in the trash.

Eco tip

Try removing paper towels from your life. Replace them with cloth napkins and dish towels. If you have a large spill, use a sponge to clean it up.

graphic of kitty litter

14. Kitty litter

Some brands of cat litter claim to be flushable, but it can still have a negative impact on your pipes and the ocean. Cat litter is designed to be absorbent, so when its flushed it absorbs the water and grows in size. This may cause a clog. In addition, the chemicals from the cat litter and the toxins in the feces can get in the local waterways and harm marine life.

How to dispose of kitty litter properly

Instead of flushing kitty litter, throw it away in a trash can. Be sure the trash can has a lid, or else other neighborhood animals might get into it, making a mess.

Eco tip

Look for more green litter that is made from recycled newspaper, wood shavings or other more natural recycled elements. This will be safer to dispose of because it doesnt produce dust that clay litter does.

How to unclog your drain the natural way

Even if youve avoided putting these items down the drain, there can still be build-up that causes a clog in your drain. Rather than pouring another chemical down the drain or waiting for a plumber to arrive, try unclogging it with baking soda and vinegar.

  • Step 1: Pour a pot of boiling water down the drain.
  • Step 2: Add 1 cup of baking soda down the drain and then pour in 1 cup water and 1 cup of vinegar.
  • Step 3: Wait about 10 minutes for the solution to mix in the drain.
  • Step 4: Pour another pot of boiling water down the drain to clear the pipes.

If this natural cleaning method doesnt work, you should contact your landlord or property management with a maintenance request. Professionals will have a better idea of what the issue is.

infographic of items to never put down the drain


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